28 December 2005

2005

Well. The year is nigh over. I was going to some sort of retrospective, but now I realize that I don't really care to. Looking back over the past year is what got me depressed in the first place, back in March. Of course, the year I was looking back over was not then as pleasant as the year just coming to a close.

I speak, of course, of my own year, the things I did this year. 2005 as a whole was marginally crappy in the outer world, but plenty of other news agencies will tell you all about it, so I don't need to. And as for my year... well, you can review the blog. Frankly, I'm not at all sure what in the hell I was intending to do with this post. But a post, once written, cannot be deleted. So here you go.

Let's all toast 2005. For or better or for worse, it's over. Here's a Shiner Bock to toast in 2006.


Arnold's Cyclopedia

I got yet another book from my local library! You should see what your library has to offer.

I checked this book out because A) I wanted some new exercises to do in the gym and the book lists pretty much every way you can lift a weight, and B) it costs like fifty bucks to buy a copy and weighs about nine pounds. My bookshelves are overloaded as it is and my checkbook is a bit underweight.

I did not read this whole book. Nor did I plan to. Nor would I bother. If you want a history of bodybuilding, it's in the book. If you want an entire workout plan for years, it's in the book. Every exercise ever conceived? In the book. Tips on competition? Yeah, it's in the book. I read the exercises. I have a few comments for those who might care.

This is the revised second edition of this book. It still offers a few exercises you should never, ever do (behind the neck chinups), but it also presents more alternatives. And, the discussion of squats and deadlifts goes much further into safety and why it's so important to keep the back straight. That's a good change.

The exercise plans are fairly absurd. Work out six times a week, hitting each body part three times? Fine, if you're on steroids. Anyone else will overtrain in a heartbeat. Then it gets better, with a plan for two workouts a day six days a week. Again, poor advice for non-roided types.
Of course, I'm not planning on using any of the workout plans in the book. I've done enough work on my own to know what works for me and I'm happy with that (although I'm less happy with the fact that I went to the gym all of once in November, and maybe four times in December). And after all, what should I have expected from a professional bodybuilder/governor (though probably not governor anymore by this time next year)?

All in all, this is a book with many ideas, only about half of which are probably crap. This is pretty good as books of ideas go. Most philosophers probably get to about 50%, if they're lucky. I'm sure my writings don't crack the 50% crap level. Marx never got anywhere near it. And, if you need to glue two things together, you can set this book on top of them.


Arnold's Cyclopedia

I got yet another book from my local library! You should see what your library has to offer.

I checked this book out because A) I wanted some new exercises to do in the gym and the book lists pretty much every way you can lift a weight, and B) it costs like fifty bucks to buy a copy and weighs about nine pounds. My bookshelves are overloaded as it is and my checkbook is a bit underweight.

I did not read this whole book. Nor did I plan to. Nor would I bother. If you want a history of bodybuilding, it's in the book. If you want an entire workout plan for years, it's in the book. Every exercise ever conceived? In the book. Tips on competition? Yeah, it's in the book. I read the exercises. I have a few comments for those who might care.

This is the revised second edition of this book. It still offers a few exercises you should never, ever do (behind the neck chinups), but it also presents more alternatives. And, the discussion of squats and deadlifts goes much further into safety and why it's so important to keep the back straight. That's a good change.

The exercise plans are fairly absurd. Work out six times a week, hitting each body part three times? Fine, if you're on steroids. Anyone else will overtrain in a heartbeat. Then it gets better, with a plan for two workouts a day six days a week. Again, poor advice for non-roided types.
Of course, I'm not planning on using any of the workout plans in the book. I've done enough work on my own to know what works for me and I'm happy with that (although I'm less happy with the fact that I went to the gym all of once in November, and maybe four times in December). And after all, what should I have expected from a professional bodybuilder/governor (though probably not governor anymore by this time next year)?

All in all, this is a book with many ideas, only about half of which are probably crap. This is pretty good as books of ideas go. Most philosophers probably get to about 50%, if they're lucky. I'm sure my writings don't crack the 50% crap level. Marx never got anywhere near it. And, if you need to glue two things together, you can set this book on top of them.


Bartleby the Scrivener

So, I read Bartleby the Scrivener, part of this book here called The Shorter Novels of Herman Melville. I checked this book out of my local library.

If I had more time I'd probably read the other shorter novels of Herman Melville, but as it is I've been busy and I only checked this out to read Bartleby. I did this on the advice of a friend, but I no longer know how the subject came up. To be honest, I'm not sure I got Bartleby. Was there something to get? Or was I just looking for something more than was there. I guess this was just absurdism, and as such, it was an interesting read. Though I would have to argue with a few points. The coda wherein it is supposed that Bartleby worked in the dead letter office really seemed to destroy the mood. I don't know. I liked the idea of Bartleby just being impossible to figure.

That said, I like the way he controlled his situation. I'd like to see something similar happen in reality, to see how it would play out. How long could you get away with simply prefering not to do things? I'd prefer not to go to work, but I don't think I'd quite manage that as successfully as Bartleby controlled his boss.

It was interesting. And short, which is nice, since the books remaining on my reading list are both very long and have taken me a long time to read.


Bartleby the Scrivener

So, I read Bartleby the Scrivener, part of this book here called The Shorter Novels of Herman Melville. I checked this book out of my local library.

If I had more time I'd probably read the other shorter novels of Herman Melville, but as it is I've been busy and I only checked this out to read Bartleby. I did this on the advice of a friend, but I no longer know how the subject came up. To be honest, I'm not sure I got Bartleby. Was there something to get? Or was I just looking for something more than was there. I guess this was just absurdism, and as such, it was an interesting read. Though I would have to argue with a few points. The coda wherein it is supposed that Bartleby worked in the dead letter office really seemed to destroy the mood. I don't know. I liked the idea of Bartleby just being impossible to figure.

That said, I like the way he controlled his situation. I'd like to see something similar happen in reality, to see how it would play out. How long could you get away with simply prefering not to do things? I'd prefer not to go to work, but I don't think I'd quite manage that as successfully as Bartleby controlled his boss.

It was interesting. And short, which is nice, since the books remaining on my reading list are both very long and have taken me a long time to read.


26 December 2005

19 December 2005

Cloistered

Reading over on Sticks of Fire a moment ago I was struck that, clearly, there've been issues this year with people saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.

Until just now, I was blissfully unaware of this debate. Some people say Merry Christmas. Some say Happy Holidays. I heard both at work today. I said both at work today. I didn't think about it one way or the other. I'm saddened knowing that there are people out there with so much time on their hands and so little knowledge of the world's larger problems that they think this is a significant matter. Boycott stores that tell their employees to wish you "Happy Holidays?" I'd rather boycott a store where the employees don't say anything at all.

What's so wrong with Happy Holidays? I celebrate the New Year, that's a holiday. And it comes only a week after Christmas. And with Thanksgiving less than a month before Christmas, it's really not a stretch for this to be the Holiday season. It doesn't have to be the Christmas season. Christmas is part of the season. If you wish me Merry Christmas, are you saying you hope I have a lousy new year?

People care so much about such stupid things these days. Everyone's stress meter seems to be pegged at all times; it's like if you aren't worried about enough meaningless things, you'll cease to have any meaning in your own life. No one can be happy that they have enough to eat, a place to sleep that's dry and warm, a steady job, money to go out and join the frenzy of Christmas (Holiday?) shoppers and buy things for your friends and family that they don't really need. No, we can't just be happy. We have to be upset about something; if we aren't we must be callous and shallow. But our true nature is better shown by the things we choose to care about than by the fact that we care in the first place.

Christmas is a holiday. I hope you have a happy one.


Bored, Lazy, and Under Duress

No, no, I haven't disappeared again. I've just been incredibly lazy about posting here. There's a lot going on in my life these days, which I'll get to in due time.

An eventful year is drawing to a close. Recent news has caused me to expect next year will be quite a bit more eventful. And the year after that? Well, I'm not sure when it's going to end, exactly. I was immensely bored at work today. But my life is far from boring.

Lately I've been thinking about last winter. This time a year ago I was in Kyrgyzstan, and it was really winter. It never really gets to be winter here. We've had a few days of cool drear, and it's been a welcome change from the bright sunshine. I like the dreary weather. It puts me in a pensive mood, and right now I just want to be in that mood. It's even better after dark.

The Cheesegrater building, 400 North Ashley (usually called the Beer Can, but it really looks like a cheese grater), has recently added some sort of outdoor art to its north wall. This part of the building used to be the bank lobby, but now I don't know who even rents space in the building. Lights go on and off in it on the 26th floor or so every night, for no good reason. Usually when I look at it, it's red. But right now, I'm watching as it transitions from red to blue. Here are pictures of it in red and blue. In the blue pic, you can see the other building that lights up the night, the SunTrust tower and its lighted Mayan pyramid, green and red for the season.


I enjoy this view. I enjoy it all the more on nights when the clouds are low and heavy, reflecting back the light from the city. A night like this, the city is smaller, closer. It's mine.
If the weather was like this all the time, I'd never leave Tampa. But it isn't.




14 December 2005

*Cough, Cough* Back from the Dead, Again?

I am writing to you now from a shiny new computer, which I've bought to replace my somewhat scratched and dirty old computer, but which I thought would work for me for at least another few months. Sadly, the old Compaq has given up the ghost at long last. In fact, it did so last week, on Wednesday afternoon. It hasn't been willing to accept a battery charge since then.

I ordered this computer on Thursday, from Newegg.com. It's an Acer TravelMate. I got five years out of my previous Acer computer, and then my folks got another year or two after that if I recall, so I'm hoping for at least four years from this machine. Let's all cross our fingers.

The new machine arrived on Monday. Tonight I hooked it up to the internet for the first time. Yaay! Internet access from home! Oh, wait. I have internet access all day at work. All I can't do at work is... well, post to this blog (or read anything on any blogger blog), and check my standard email address.

Anyway. I'm busy recreating my bookmarks list, but I wanted to announce my return to the blog, and apologize to both of my loyal readers for my absence.


05 December 2005

Cato Unbound

My favorite writer, P.J. O'Rourke, is the H.L. Mencken Research Fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. I'm not exactly sure what the Mencken Research Fellowship entails, but he still writes for Atlantic Monthly and travels hither and yon. Most think tanks produce enough good thinkers and pithy writers that you'll frequently see quotes in news stories from members of one or another of them. But you can't always take them at face value: a member of the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation is going to support the Republican line. One from the Center for American Progress you must assume wants to make the Democrats look good. Cato, on the other hand, is one of the very small handful of think tanks without an axe to grind.

So when I heard that the Cato Institute was starting up a sort of blog, I was keen to see what it was all about. So: Cato Unbound.

The way it works is, each month the Institute invites some luminary to write an essay on a topic of current concern. Then, other luminous types write responses to the original essay. The first writer can then respond to the responses, and after that it becomes discussion, between the initial writers and the blog's readers as well. How cool is that? This month's topic is the Constitution, and the first essay is James Buchanan's discussion of three amendments he'd add to the Constitution.

This is a very exciting idea. The editors of Cato Unbound hope that other bloggers will take up the discussion on their own blogs, and that those discussions can add to the whole Unbound thing. Think about this: what if Cato manages to get all those ranting political blogs to stop calling the other side names and start having honest discussions about interesting and important topics? This could be the best thing to happen to the blogosphere since its creation.

I almost forgot the best part. You don't have to "join" anything! You can just go there and read about it yourself, then discuss it on your own blog. No fees, no signups. Exactly the way the web is supposed to work.


04 December 2005

Coggle

So.
I got stood up for a date tonight.

But, you know, I'm not at the date now. Since I didn't feel like sticking around the bar. Alone.

At least Cinders is happy to see me.

I think the circumstances here are sufficiently absurd as to warrant a second attempt. But not tonight.

Tonight, I am desperate need of a new laptop. The warranty on this machine runs out next Monday, and I received a note in the mail from H-P telling me that I can extend it for "as low as $249!" Which is emphatically not worth it. Should I buy one off the shelf from Office Depot, or try to build my own from a manufacturer, as I've done with both of my previous machines (both of which, it's worth pointing, had chronic problems, though this one is much better than the earlier Dell). I need, oh, about 30G hard drive space, a 14+" screen (NOT a widescreen), 802.11b/g wireless connectivity and a modem and ethernet card, a PCMCIA slot, a 3.5" floppy slot, CD burner (DVD would be nice, but not necessary), and I need it to be CHEAP! VERY VERY CHEAP! BECAUSE I AM A CHEAP BASTARD!!!

Ahem. Sorry about that. The thing is, if it's sufficiently cheap I can afford the warranty where they come to your house to fix the computer, instead of having to sit on the phone for three hours with Bangladeshis and then mailing the machine off to some warehouse in Guatemala where two illiterate old men poke at it with cigars and say, "Lookit all them wires in there," except in Spanish, and then when you get the computer back half the parts have been replaced but none of the broken ones.
Also, I want an external hard drive, which is just additional expense and more reason to get a cheaper box.

Oh, and it has to fit in my current laptop carrier, because that's just another $40 scam they have and I already own two of the things.

Cinders is awake now. He looks extremely vexed. Ooh! The picture I just took of him, above, I downloaded some other photos off the camera at the same time. I went home for Thanksgiving, and we went to the annual boat parade in downtown. I took a couple pictures of the boats, but none of them turned out especially well. However, some of the fireworks photos are tres cool.

Check out this cool pic of the Main Street Bridge with the blue underlight.


Okay, these next two are just good fireworks pictures.


Okay, now, the cool thing is, downtown is between two bridges, and they set off fireworks from both of them. The nearer one, the Acosta, looks like a waterfall. It's incredible, but none of my pictures turned out. But here's a photo of the waterfall of sparks off the Main Street Bridge, and the streamers from the barge. Yeehaw.

And those other two posts I talked about earlier are on their way, too, maybe tomorrow. After I get that William & Mary letter written.



03 December 2005

Back from the Dead

Well, today I put applications in for four schools: Stetson, in Gulfport just across the bay; Georgia State University, in Atlanta; Stanford, near San Francisco; and Virginia, in Charlottesville. Stanford and Stetson both require me do send a letter to the Dean of Students at Clemson and get all sorts of information from them. I don't even know who the Dean of Students is anymore. Likely he or she didn't even work at the university when I was there. What they expect to learn from this I don't know.

This was a dreadful, painful, ugly process, and not surprisingly putting it off didn't do a damn thing to help. I could have written these stupid letters months ago, I could have had these in the mail one month ago, but that's the way it goes. In any event, now I'm marginally done (there is the Dean letter bit, but I'll get to that on Monday since there's no sense putting them in the mail on Sunday).

I also still have to finish up the William & Mary application. The school offers me the opportunity to write a second essay, and I've decided to write one about pilot training. Unfortunately, I'm on page four so far and I'm not yet halfway through pilot training. Obviously, I'm going to have to start over again, but I'm going to do so tomorrow, as my brain needs a break.

I figured filling out applications via the internet, using LSAC'autmomatic form filler, would be a snap. That was before I started working on these things, around 10 this morning. I finally finished about half an hour ago. And I didn't even take a break to, you know, do something more interesting. And... well, I'd do something interesting but I've already burned the whole day, so I'm just going to watch some Futurama and go to bed early. Tomorrow I can do something fun.


29 November 2005

NORDO

This is hard, because there at least two blog posts I really want to write right now (one is on Iraq, the other is about how November totally kicked my butt), but I'm not going to do it! No sir! Not until I get these bleeding law school applications finished! And the living room cleaned out at least somewhat!

So that's it. No more blogging until the applications are all done. With any luck it won't be that long.


28 November 2005

Freakonomics

So... I read Freakonomics, which apparently is one of the biggest nonfiction books of the year.

I didn't buy it, though, I borrowed it from a friend. It turns to be very interesting and thought provoking, but I'm not sure it's quite as amazing as a lot of folks are saying. The main problem with this book is that not everything in the world can be explained with the cold logic of economics. I like the book's premise--that we can use the tools of economics to answer all sorts of questions. I like the idea of coming up with my own questions and trying to find solutions in the same manner as the book's authors. But I am not among those who believe that all of live can ultimately reduced to algorithms. Messrs Levitt and Dubner seem to think that is possible.

I may write a longer review when I'm feeling better, but I might not. This book gets... oh, I don't know. It's probably worth a read, I mean, it is interesting. Just don't forget your salt.


Freakonomics

So... I read Freakonomics, which apparently is one of the biggest nonfiction books of the year.

I didn't buy it, though, I borrowed it from a friend. It turns to be very interesting and thought provoking, but I'm not sure it's quite as amazing as a lot of folks are saying. The main problem with this book is that not everything in the world can be explained with the cold logic of economics. I like the book's premise--that we can use the tools of economics to answer all sorts of questions. I like the idea of coming up with my own questions and trying to find solutions in the same manner as the book's authors. But I am not among those who believe that all of live can ultimately reduced to algorithms. Messrs Levitt and Dubner seem to think that is possible.

I may write a longer review when I'm feeling better, but I might not. This book gets... oh, I don't know. It's probably worth a read, I mean, it is interesting. Just don't forget your salt.


Ugh

Laid low by gastroenteritis, I had hoped not to do anything but sit around in the recliner and sleep today. Had hoped. But the office doesn't let me do that.

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and came home Sunday night. I had a spot of dinner, but poured myself a glass of milk to drink with it. The milk, it turns out, was bad. I only drank one swallow of it, but that was all it took. Lord only knows what was in there, but it wasn't very nice.

I didn't even lie down in bed before I got sick the first time. Then I felt so much better I took a shower and lay down, thinking it was all over. Ha! One AM was a harsh hour for me. So was three-thirty. I don't think I ever got any actual sleep.

Lying there in the bed later in the morning, I became acutely aware of every joint in my body, and the way the bones fit into them. I could feel each individual bone, and how it was situated. I just couldn't get even remotely comfortable; if I lay on my back my neck hurt, if I rolled on my side my shoulders and arms hurt, on my stomach nothing felt good at all.

I stayed in bed anyway. The phone rang around 8. I had to go in to the office. Ugh.
I left the house around 9'30, quite ill. I never realized how lousy the roads are in Tampa until this morning, but I could feel every single bump in the road--every concrete joint on Bayshore, every manhole cover, every bump in the pavement on base. I about got sick just driving in.

Fortunately, I got my work finished fairly quickly, and came back home, where I slept on the recliner for a while. I had corn flakes for lunch, which stayed down, and made some chicken noodle soup in the crockpot which I'm enjoying now.

My advice: smell the milk before you drink it.

27 November 2005

More Pots!

I have some new pots over at St. Pete Clay. So here are some photos.

First we have the standard pic of everything new.


First we have the long-awaited ugly face jar. Not much to say about this. The salt firing added nice pitting and made him even uglier.







Here is a big fat jug. This is the first jug I've thrown in two parts.










This item here is a nice jar I've glazed all over with amber celadon, which is a glaze I've tried for many years to produce and which, as you can see, I have not yet perfected. But the jar is still pretty nice anyway.













And finally we have the Christmas Jar. I don't know what exactly made this jar turn out the way it did, but it's beautiful, and if it doesn't sell at this weekend's Christmas Sale (8-4, Saturday and Sunday, at the studio on S 22nd St), it's coming home with me.

23 November 2005

Thanksgiving

Ooo! I have pottery pictures! But I'm also about to head home for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I must get on the road shortly or I'll have to fight rush hour traffic. I'll post on Sunday.
Enjoy the holiday and we'll all be back together in a few days.


21 November 2005

A Ramblin' Man

The title could have multiple meanings. I don't really have anything to say, but imagine that I'll ramble on a bit anyway.

Tampa is a great city, don't get me wrong, and I've enjoyed living here at least as much as I would have enjoyed living anywhere else the AF might have sent me. That said, there are some things I miss.
The weather here has been more or less exactly the same at all times that I've been here. I've deployed during the winter and during the hottest part of the summer, and every time I come home from a deployment, the weather here is the same as it was when I left. I didn't think much about it until I started spending so much time here this past year, and I realized that the weather was pretty much always the same.


Today, at last, we got an actual cold front, and it was dreary and grey and rainy, even if only for two hours. It felt like actual weather. I loved it, but at the same time I was a little cheesed by how exciting it was. Today, for the first time in about a year, I wanted to pick up and drive away and not come back.

I grew up in Florida. I shouldn't get sudden urges to drop everything and drive to Cheboygan, Michigan, so I can see some snow and a genuine winter storm. But I got one. This is, alas, a sign that less has changed in my outlook over the last several months that I might want to think.

Turns out, I'm still not ready to settle down, even though I claim to be. I first noticed this thought creeping around in my brain on Sunday, during my bike ride. Smith & Associates (no relation) was showing a few units in The Meridian and Victory Lofts, over in Channelside. I rode up and took the tour. I was mostly interested in seeing The Meridian, the outside of which I quite like, but it was Victory Lofts that really caught my interest. All my life when I've thought about living in the city, I've been picturing Victory Lofts; I just hadn't realized it until Sunday. I can't afford anything in that building, but some day when I've made my money selling tawdry novels (I always knew Lauderdale would be tawdry, but it's become more so as I've written it) I'd like to pick up something like one of the city view penthouses at Victory Lofts.

But while I was thinking these thoughts on Sunday, I was also thinking about what it would really mean to put down roots here in Tampa. I like this city. In two or three years, downtown is really going to be an exciting place to live. And I don't want to be here for it. I'm just ready to go.

For the last year, I've been thinking that what got me depressed and anxious about the Air Force was the inability to stay in one place and put down roots. But that's not quite the problem. I don't really care to put down any roots; I just want to be able to say when and where I'm going to go, and I can't do that in the service.

That said, the age of the Dharma Bums is over. I'm not aware of a way I could move around the country at a whim and still maintain continued employment that would keep me fed, clothed, and housed, and allow me to keep my car, library, and laptop in good shape. If anyone is aware of a career that would allow this, please tell me all about it.

That said, the "laptop in good shape" bit is causing me some trouble right now (see, I told you I'd start rambling). I've owned the current machine (known as The Governor) since January of 2003, so this one has had a fairly good run, certainly longer and less troubled than the previous iteration (Betty). But in the spring of 2004, the power plant on this machine crapped out, and it could no longer accept a charge through the ac adapter. I sent it in for repair; it was a huge saga that I won't detail here, but suffice to say it took over a month before I finally had a working computer again, and they'd had to wipe the hard drive.

I'm much better about backing up these days, but The Governor has reached what I consider the goal life span of one of these machines and I've thought for a while now that if anything broke on it again I'd just replace it. Well... the power plant's going to die again soon. Initially I thought there might be a problem with the AC adapter itself, since the plug on it where it attaches to the computer is looking somewhat corroded. I got a new adapter in the mail today from HP. The new one doesn't work any better than the old one, although it does look better without the corrosion.

This means that I now find myself in the market for a new laptop. I hate shopping for these things. They cost way too damned much money, and to get the few things I really need in such a machine I usually have to buy something with far more functionality than I really need (and thus have to spend more than I want to). With unemployment looming in the distance, I'm not keen to spend much...but then, I do need a computer. While I have a terrific old Smith Corona typewriter waiting for me in Atlanta, it's not functional at the moment; I'm also not really going to try to write a novel longhand, much less get it published.

So, if you A) know of a job where I can pick up and move any time I want, or B) have a suggestion for an inexpensive but somewhat customizable laptop, I want to hear about it. And if you just want to say that you totally feel the same way about wanting to go someplace new all the time, I want to hear about that, too. Especially if you're a single woman, because obviously we're meant to be.

20 November 2005

Sunday Morning


This morning I took my usual Sunday constitutional a little later than normal, so there was more traffic on the roads than normal. Not a big deal. I wouldn't want to do it during a weekday rush hour, but downtown is not a hard place to ride a bike around in--at least as long as Mayor Iorio keeps the lights timed.

This morning I rode around the back side of The Floridan hotel, renovations to which were supposed to have got underway some weeks ago. They aren't, but then we've heard the line about renovations getting under way every few weeks now for the last year.

But there is something going on at the old hotel; a sign at street level indicates that the city is to hear a request for a special tax exemption on December 8th, which presumably the owners want in place before beginning their work. Or, this could just be one in a long line of stalling tactics. But somebody's been in the building recently, as three inflatable snowmen now adorn the top of the building; I first noticed them yesterday on my way home from work.

As I was riding along the sidewalk on the south side of the building, a visibly drunk person driving an extremely shiny and evidently new black pickup truck stopped beside me. He had a lot to say, but was having difficulty forming the words he wanted to use. Among other things, he told me he wanted to get to Busch Gardens. I started to say how to get there, but he launched into a spiel about how he was only in Tampa for a day and wanted to make his mark--I shudder to think what he meant--and several other things, none of which I could make out. The shiny new pickup had a shiny new smoker in the back, one of the things you'd use to cook a few hundred hamburgers, for example, and he gestured at it a lot, but I couldn't tell what he was saying.

He had two passengers, both shabbily dressed and also visibly drunk. The driver was wearing what might have been the only decent clothes he had, and a black cowboy hat exactly like the one Kenny Chesney was wearing in the poster advertising his newest album that was pasted on the boarded up window of the Floridan behind me. Where he had picked up these other two I had no idea, but it occurred to me that he might have stolen the truck, the clothes, and possibly the passengers as well. I didn't want to ask.

After making what were evidently supposed to be jokes (lots of laughing involved, anyway), he mentioned that he also wanted to pick up a prostitute. I assume this was in fact the only thing he wanted to do. And I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I knew where to send him. It was far easier to give him directions to Nebraska Avenue (just head down this street a few blocks and turn up Nebraska Avenue, that's where you want to go) than to get him all the way up to Busch Gardens, to which he was too drunk to be admitted anyway. But prostitutes? Yeah, I know where you can get those.

Really, I don't know from personal experience or anything. But I live in downtown Tampa; I have lived here for two years and I read the papers. I know that if I ever wanted to score some drugs and pick up a hooker, I'd head right over to Nebraska.

The fact that this comes up on a Sunday morning is probably a sign.


17 November 2005

Capitol Football

This came from The Hill e-News, and I found it so amusing I had to share.

The first annual "Longest Yard" Fall Classic, a football game between members of Congress and the Capitol Police, ended in a 14-14 tie yesterday. The event raised funds for the Capitol Police Memorial fund and the game was played despite torrential rain and dropping temperatures Thursday night...
...More than 30 members of Congress participated; former Nebraska Head Coach Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.) coached the members' team.
Although the contest was billed as flag football by the bipartisan press release, the game was so rough that one member, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), sustained a head injury that required stitches.

A head injury requiring stitches? Wow, that's more contact than you see in late-season NFL games between teams with losing records. I'm impressed. Rep. Tom Osborne, by the way, is running for governor of Nebraska next year, which is all the more reason to go there as far as I'm concerned.



If one school board is lousy, why would two be better?

Today’s Tampa Tribune contains an article detailing some legislators’ plan to allow Florida’s larger school districts to split into smaller districts.

When I was going to college in South Carolina it always interested me that even relatively small counties in that state have three or sometimes five separate school districts within them. Then, when I moved to Texas, I found that some school districts covered two or three counties, or that any given county might have parts of several districts in them with no regard to county lines at all. Having grown up in Florida, where every county has one school district and one school board, this was pretty weird.

The article notes that “some studies suggest that smaller districts do a better job of educating students,” though it doesn’t describe any of the studies or even name them, so it might just be a lie. Google came to the rescue with a couple of studies, and there’s more (but not too much more) after the jump.


Now, I’m a small-government guy. I tend to think that no problem is so large that adding more government to it can’t make it worse. Thus, my first impression here is, Florida has only 67 school districts, thus only 67 school boards and 67 sets of bickering politicians, 67 separate district administrations sucking money away from classrooms to run their administrative duties, 67 separate boards to spend campaign money on, and so on. Compare this against South Carolina, which has less than a fifth of Florida’s population and only 43 counties, but has over 150 school districts—and thus 150 sets of bickering politicians etc. And note that South Carolina’s schools are not notably better (nor much worse) than Florida’s. I just don’t see how smaller school districts would change anything.

But Google found me several papers that purport to show exactly that: smaller districts would be better. Unfortunately, a lot of them are useless.

Here’s an article from the University of Minnesota that asks if "some districts are too small or large to offer a quality education," but then fails to answer that question. It does offer some background, though (but it makes use of one of my least favorite statistics, the "top 10% makes up X part of the total, while the bottom 10% makes up only Y part of the total." This is a statistic of the type "informative but valueless.").

Here we have a comment on people power in large v. small school districts that bases most of its argument on the fact that something "stands to reason." So this study is basically worthless.

So I've left the best three studies for last. This study argues, contrary to my logic above, that large school districts actually spend more on non-essentials than would more small school districts. It's worth looking at.

Here's a very good study that says very clearly that smaller school districts have a positive effect on graduation rate. Unfortunately, it seems there are a lot of variables they don't seem to have corrected for.

Finally, this study, called School Inflation, is probably the best. It also has some interesting conclusions. The study seems to indicate that larger districts might actually be better, as long as the larger districts have smaller schools. Probably the most nuanced study here.

Anyway, after I tracked down and skimmed all these studies (you think I actually read them all?) I sort of forgot where I was going with this post. I think my main point was going to be this:

I don't think smaller districts are going to solve any problem that couldn't be solved by not creating additional levels of bureaucracy, as I said above. And after looking through these studies, I'm not sure I've seen anything that clearly proves me wrong. But I think it's an interesting point nonetheless and I know I have some readers from South Carolina so I'm keen to hear what, if anything, they think about all this.

16 November 2005

Doggie love

Here's an article from Bay News 9 about how dogs can improve the health of heart patients. It's the second story on the page.

Last night I watched Bay News 9 while I ate dinner--which I started eating around 9, after getting home at 8'30 following a 13-hour day--and they had the dog story on as I sat down. It reminded me of something I noticed around Christmas of 2003.

My grandmother was suffering from congestive heart failure then, and was in an extended care facility at the retirement community she'd lived in for some years. My folks and I went up to visit over Christmas (actually drove north on Christmas Day), as I was to deploy in the first week of January and would probably not get to visit her again. Because of the short notice trip we brought the family dog along rather than boarding her at the kennel.

The retirement community, including the hospital, had always had fairly liberal policies about dogs, and we brought the dog in. I don't believe I've ever witnessed such a sudden and visible change in people's attitudes than when we walked through that care facility with the dog. These were people near the end of their lives, but when they saw Dixie coming every one of them was six years old again.

"Can I pet her?" "That's a nice doggy." "Such a pretty girl." And so on. Some of the nurses remarked that they'd like to see somebody bring in a dog every day, just to make folks happy for a few minutes.

I don't have a dog myself, and Dixie passed away a year or so ago. But I still remember the effect she had on those folks; it's nice to see a study verifying that. For liability reasons I doubt local hospitals would be keen on folks just wandering in with their dogs, but it would sure be nice if we could find a safe way to bring this little bit of joy into peoples' lives--and if it actually has health benefits to boot, so much the better.


15 November 2005

Test Pattern

Okay, so I was going to go off on my next adventure (St. Pete Clay, specifically), but then Clemson put three touchdowns up on FSU and now I can't leave the television. I'll go to the studio tomorrow.
So... I guess I should write a review of Test Pattern, by Marjorie Klein, which I read while on vacation.
I picked up this book at the used book store in downtown while wandering around down there one afternoon. I also picked up several other used books, and the total bill came to something like four dollars. So as you can see, this book didn't exactly cost a bunch of money. For what I paid, it was a good book.

It was Marjorie Klein's first book; she writes for the Miami Herald and the book has a promotional blurb from Dave Barry on the cover. That's pretty high praise; I'll read anything by Barry and for the most part I'll read anything he recommends (say what you will, but I think Dave Barry's a better judge of literature than Oprah). That, and the cover of the book caught my eye. Bright yellow, with a picture of a TV dinner. The old kind of TV dinner, the kind that predated microwaves and that had those neutron peas that never seemed to warm up all the way (and seemed to exist in every compartment of the dinner whether there were peas in the dinner in the first place or not).

They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but that is in reality how we judge most books, and nearly everything else as well. And I'm not disappointed in this book. It wasn't bad. It wasn't remarkably good, but it had its own charms.

The central conceit of the book is that there's more in the tv test pattern than meets the eye--at least for one little girl. The book is set in the early 1950s or very late 1940s, in the early days of television. The family at the center of the book have just acquired their very first television, and the book's theme is the effect tv has on the family. As you might expect, the effect is not exactly a good one.

Marjorie Klein has done some very amusing things here. For one, each chapter alternates between the daughter narrator, and third-person narrator following the mother. This is pretty unique; I've tried to write stories where multiple characters each get to narrate, and the reason so few people can make this work (Faulkner aside) is that it's hard to get the narrators to be convincingly individual. Here, instead of having mother narrate herself, mother's chapters are written by a third narrator, but with a very limited point of view. I've never read a book that used this tool, and I quite enjoyed it.

The father, who is a key character in the story every bit as important as mother and daughter, doesn't get to narrate. Hard to say why exactly, but there are plenty of possible reasons. We never really get into his head, but it's clear enough exactly what sort of problems he's having, with his wife, with his job, with life in general. That he doesn't suffer from not having his own chapters is clear enough indication that Marjorie Klein knows what she's doing.

As I said, it was an enjoyable read, but not one of my favorites. The test pattern bit seems...silly, and frankly insignificant, until the moment comes in the story when it actually plays a role. And then, it feels a little... I don't know. You can't call it deus ex machina, since she's set it up right from the start of the story. I guess it's just that, I never fully bought into the test pattern magic anyway. I have problems with magic in realist stories, and this is a very realist story. In fact, I almost wonder whether the magic is necessary to story at all--and until that one fateful moment late in the book where it does matter, it could almost be eliminated. So it feels as though this bit of magic is only in the book to save everybody there in that one crucial climactic moment.

That, and, there's a glaring error in the book that should have been picked up by a decent editor. At one point when snippets of The Simpsons appear in the test pattern, Lisa's name is given as "Susie." Why Susie? It's a throwaway moment and thus no commentary is intended by the name change; it's simply an error, a bizarre error to be sure, and the sort of thing that editors are paid to catch. Then again, I do watch an inordinate amount of Simpsons, since it's on twice every night as I'm cooking and eating dinner.

The main commentary in the story, about television's effect on this working-class family, is very well stated, and the book is worth reading because of that. Indeed, a lot of people who have less trouble with magic in realist stories would probably enjoy this book a great deal. As for me, it was... okay.

Test Pattern

Well, I don't have any idea what happened to the post I wrote reviewing Test Pattern. It's gone from the edit queue so I'll be darned if I know what happened. I could try to recreate it but I'm just not feeling it right now. So here's the executive summary version:

It's a decent book. Probably worth picking up if the theme--the effect of television on a 1950s working class family--seems like it might be interesting. It certainly has its own unique charms, and, though I wasn't really drawn in by the gimmick (the idea that there's more in the test pattern than just a test pattern, at least for one little girl), I was drawn in by the unique narration style and the effective characterizations. It was Marjorie Klein's first novel and I think it's always a good idea to support first novels. So there you have it.

I'm also not sure why The Jump doesn't seem to be working any more. It must be the computer's fault, as I am wholly innocent.


Long week

And it's only Tuesday.

It's the week of the big exercise at work. But no week is so overexercised that they can't give us a second or third exercise to increase our fun and enjoyment. To that end, we have a one-day exercise tomorrow, and then the big multi-day exercise Thursday through Monday. So although yesterday and today were too busy (I didn't leave work until... well, until normal people normally leave work... which is still way later than normal for me and cuts out my gym time, which sucks), the real problem is that I'll be at work Saturday and Sunday, too, and then all the way through Wednesday. I'll be at work until Thanksgiving day. Wow, that sucks.

Because we've been so busy with preparations at work, I haven't A) followed the news enough to find anything to comment on here, or B) been creative enough to think of my own original material (like the turtle post below). Unfortunately that's likely to continue for the next several days.



12 November 2005

Notes on a Saturday

1. Go Clemson!

2. The people who answer the phones at the Tampa Police Department do not know the names of the city's parks. This is pretty bad. I was at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park this morning, where I had put in my kayak for a wonderful morning paddling around downtown and in the harbor area. When I came back to the park I found the gate to the (from?) the docks was locked and I couldn't get back to my car. I had my cell phone, so I called the TPD figuring they were the most likely city agency to answer the phones on a Saturday morning. When I said I was at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, they told me I wasn't in the city. I was in the county.
Lane Park is in downtown, next door to Tampa Prep and right across the river from my house. It is most certainly in downtown. But they were convinced that Julian Lane park was somewhere out yonder in the county. Now, Lane Park is in a bad part of town. So if you're ever in Lane Park and are in trouble and call the cops, don't expect anything to happen. They don't seem to know where you are.

3. Newsweek has a new poll that, like most other polls, shows extremely low approval ratings for Bush. Newsweek also says, "But that’s not the worst of it for the 43rd president of the United States, a leader who rode comfortably to reelection just a year ago. Half of all Americans now believe he’s not 'honest and ethical.'"
That's what Newsweek says. Smitty says, "Half of all Americans have finally realized that he's not 'honest and ethical.'"
The thing about snow jobs is, snow melts.

And now I'm off on another adventure.


11 November 2005

Turtles All The Way Down

More and more these days I'm finding wisdom in Hindu mythology. And I thought it was the Chinese Buddhists who were supposed to have it all figured out.

In Hindu mythology, the first turtle created was Chukwa. She was an enormous turtle, and on her back she supported the first elephant, Maha-pudma. Maha-pudma, in turn, supported on his back the entire world.

The Indians tell a story about an Englishman living in their country during the colonial era. He was fascinated by Hinduism but was a skeptic like any good Anglican. When told of the story of Chukwa and Maha-pudma, he asked, reasonably, what Chukwa stood on. Though it's not part of the myth, the response to the Englishman's question was, another turtle. And after that?

Ah, after that, it's turtles all the way down.

This myth has been transcribed into a story about a scientist and a little old lady, which is probably how most readers have heard of it, if indeed you've ever heard of it. But I like the Indian version much better. When it's a scientist, it's a story about the absurdity of the woman's belief against the obvious validity of science. That story's been told a thousand times.

But when it's a story about the Indian and the Englishman, it seems a little deeper to me. And while the "turtles all the way down" are not part of the original Hindu myth, what I know about Hinduism leads me to believe the Indian in the story was trying to be instructive nonetheless. He's telling the Englishman that, frankly, you'll never know everything. Or, as anthropologist Clifford Geertz summed up the story, "you'll never get to the bottom of things." It's rather wittier that way, but I can't take the credit.

So, some things we're just not meant to know. I don't know what the turtle is standing on--perhaps a larger planet (the first Men In Black movie played with this idea) in a larger universe. And I don't know what's in store for my career in the next few months.

I know there's a turtle. I don't know what the turtle stands on, but I don't have to know what she's standing on to trust that she will continue to hold up the world. This is not at all a Western point of view; it is very much a south Asian one. And I'm trying to square that against my own situation. I don't have to know what the Air Force is going to do with me (separate me, retrain me, etc). I know that they'll do something, and that regardless, the turtle will continue to hold up my world. I just can't keep my Western point of view out--I have to know what's going to happen.

And so, it seems, does almost everyone else. It's the primary topic I talk and write about to friends and relatives these days because it is, obviously, one of the most important things going on in my life right now. But I think I'm just going to start telling people about the turtles. I won't get fired/married/divorced/pushed out of the service/retrained/admitted to law school/published/engaged/lucky without everyone knowing about it, and if I can rest comfortably on the backs of infinite turtles, than so can everyone else.


08 November 2005

The Reason I'm Not Supposed to Drink

See here's the thing. I'm totally drunk right now.
My coworker (technically he's subordinate but no sane person would assume that was true) and I left our mutual horrid job this afternoon and went to Hooters to have a few beers and commiserate. I've missed this, on vacation. Not that I've missed the need to do this, since on vacation I didn't have any need to get drunk. But what I have missed is the chance to have a few drinks with someone who's going through the same hideous chain of events I'm going through and bitch. And then to get past the point of bitching and just talk. That's what i've missed.

I guess, since I feel the need to get wide every now and then, I should recognize that as either A) the beginning stages of alcoholism, or B) much more likely an ultimate recognition of the fact that I really hate my job and should find something else to do.

But anyway, now I'm really pretty far gone, much moreso than I would have thought given the rather moderate amount of beer I had to drink. But I am reminded of one very sobering fact: I really like being drunk.

Is that a bad thing? I have this feeling that it's a bad thing. But it's also a deeply entertaining thing, and right now I'm too much enjoying being drunk to get overconcerned about being drunk. Again, I'd assume that was a serious problem, if it wasn't for the fact that I don't get drunk all that often.

Then again, perhaps I should get drunk more often. Since I enjoy it, that is. Oh, me. Well, one of the more entertaining bits of semi-fiction I've written was done while I was drunk and was about being drunk, and this is I suppose just a follow-up to that. It's been a very useful piece, that story about being drunk, for my work on Lauderdale, since one of the important things about getting drunk is forgetting. People get drunk to forget. People who don't get drunk to forget, forget anyway. Isn't that the point?

Or, given what's going on right this minute, maybe the purpose to getting drunk is that Malcolm in the Middle, which is a decent show anyway, is really really funny when drunk. Ah, God bless UPN 44.




05 November 2005

Thoughts on Alito and King George I

Lest anyone get the impression that I think Bush doesn't give much thought to his SCOTUS nominees, I'd like to make a few comparisons.
Roberts believes in giving great deference to the executive branch; he seems to see in the Constitution (as I do not) room for a very strong executive, and he has supported expansion of executive powers in his appellate decisions. I firmly believe that all other qualifications aside Bush was very much looking for a judge who supported strong executive power when he nominated Roberts. For some info on Roberts' views on executive power you can look on SCOTUSBlog here, and other sources here, here, and here.

I'm going somewhere with this after the jump.


Next, Bush nominated a slavering crony who seemed to believe--clear evidence that she wasn't very bright--that Bush was the most brilliant man she'd ever met. The prime reason for Senators to have denied Harriet Miers a seat on the court was her sycophantic devotion to George W. Bush; we can assume she would have supported the expansion of executive powers, as long as Bush was in office at the very least. Hmm.

Now we have Judge Alito. I had a feeling, an inkling, when the nomination was announced, that liberals and Democrats were going to overlook every important issue and concentrate solely on abortion, and so far that seems to be the case. But do you think Bush nominated Alito solely on the basis of his Roe v. Wade stance? I certainly don't.

Nah. Instead, here's an article--most assuredly the first of several--about Alito's views on executive power. It seems that once again, Bush has nominated to the Court someone who is amenable to expansions of executive authority. (He also seems to defer to business interests a lot as well, another item of interest to Bush-watchers.)

Why is Bush so interested in getting people onto the Court who will support the Justice Department in any upcoming cases revolving around the limits on executive authority in this country? We already know he's keen to bring the military in to handle domestic disasters should any more occur (when, I should say), and the only comment I heard on his Bird Flu plan yesterday was that people would have to "do what they were told;" the plan also includes using the military on the homefront to combat any potential pandemic, another use of military forces during peacetime against the homefront.

I'm not a tinfoil hat person. I'm not a conspiracy buff. But just exactly what the hell is Mr. Bush planning for his next power grab? He's already asked Congress more than once to repeal the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act barring the use of the military for domestic policing. While the strength of the act has been diminished over the last 20 years, that Bush wants it repealed entirely clearly indicates he is up to something. Why does he feel he needs to use the military at home? Just exactly what parts of the military is he expecting to use, since he's got us all tied up gallivanting around the middle east and seems to want a fight with Syria to keep us even busier? I don't know. Like I said, I don't buy into conspiracy theories, but the trends here would seem to indicate that something is up.

Then again, as Mark Tushnet argues here, maybe I'm a fool for even worrying about the matter in the first place.

03 November 2005

But why is my trunk such a mess?

I was just watching the Honda Civic commercial, the cartoony one where the car bounces off the rooftops? And I noticed at the beginning the driver puts two grocery sacks in the trunk.
Man, I may not be the smoothest driver in the world, but after that drive, that poor dude’s groceries are all over that trunk. I wonder if I could make the Subie bounce off the rooftops?

Noise about Judge Alito

I’m reserving judgment on Judge Alito for the time being. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for Bush to have picked someone worse than Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, so at the least Alito is a significant improvement over the last nominee.

That said, I’ve heard very different stories about what kind of judge he is and where he stands politically from the different sides of the political spectrum, so until some genuine facts come out (during Senate inquiry I assume) and he has a chance to speak for himself, I’m not going to say anything good or bad about him. But I do have a few observations about the whole situation.

First, I find it interesting that our Evangelical Protestant president has now nominated two Catholics to the Supreme Court. I wonder if the GOP is going to nominate a Catholic for president any time soon. Furthermore, when he tried to name a fellow traveler, the mere fact that she was an Evangelical was not good enough for other EVs. That’s interesting to me, though I haven’t thought enough about it to draw any conclusion. Second, and probably without intending to, Bush has made it appear that there are no women in the federal judiciary worthy of sitting on the Supreme Court. Contrasting Miers against Alito is insulting; that Bush went to Alito after the Miers flop seems to say that Miers was simply the best woman he could find, and, released by her of the duty to nominate a woman, he returned to the white males.

I’m a white male. I would like a federal judgeship some day, sure. Who wouldn’t? So I’m not trying to play the diversity card here to run down Alito’s nomination; as far as I’m concerned it’s terrific to know that white males can still be selected for the Court. I just think the contrast between Alito and Miers is so stark as to make all potential women aspirants to the court seem pathetic; that’s a shame, and I hope Bush didn’t intend to produce that image. That said I think if we get a Democrat in the White House next time around his/her first court nomination will be a woman, just to draw a contrast.

Finally, I’d like to point out this article in today’s Washington Post, about Judge Alito. It seems the Post thinks Alito is a bit, well, dorky. A nerd. All politics aside, I think this is wonderful. Roberts was a jock, let’s face it, and Bush wishes he was a jock (he was one of those guys who hung around the jocks to look cool, you know? You can just tell). But Sam Alito, well, he’s been to baseball fantasy camp, but in high school he played in the band. I like a guy like that.

02 November 2005

It's official

I am no longer on flying status. It's actually official as of the 12th of October, but I didn't know until I called the doc today. So now comes... yet more uncertainty! Hooray! It's like a drug, it is, uncertainty. I crave it. Xenophilia.

Fortunately I have a few interested Lieutenant Colonels in my squadron who have taken an interest in... well, at least in helping me. Helping me do what, precisely, is still something of a question.

I've come to the conclusion--one of several over the last three weeks--that, all potential catastrophes aside, I'm going to begin all discussions by offering to save the Air Force the trouble and expense of retraining me. Whether they're even remotely interested in that offer I don't know, but I've concluded that separating is the best course I can possibly take at this point. I'll have the GI Bill to go to law school, and I can set my own course, which is ultimately what I need to do (set my own course) if I'm to get past this whole depression problem. That said, if I stay in, it's my intent to apply to law school and to the JAG program. If it's not of the two... then I don't know what will happen. So let's concentrate on those "one of the two" ideas.


01 November 2005

False alarm

Well, it wasn't allergies. Thank goodness. Turns out I'm just plain sick. This should make my first day back to work interesting tomorrow, though I doubt I'm contagious anymore (shucks).

October sure turned into November in a hurry here in Tampa. What had been a beautiful clear month and good health have become grey and dreary and sick. That's November, all right. They say tomorrow will be sunny and in the low 80s, but that's not November at all. I want to go back to North Carolina.


31 October 2005

Um, Pardon Me...

...But what is with this allergy shit? I don't have allergies in the autumn. Certainly not in glorious October.
I just got home five hours ago. It's pleasant out and will likely remain so so I opened up the house. Now I'm all stuffed up and sneezy and my eyes are watering like it's high April.

Listen up, Tampa. You will NOT take my autumn away from me, do you hear me? I don't know what's in bloom out there, but it had best stop it right now!

Over the last few weeks I've had lots of time to do lots of thinking, and though I experienced no brilliant epiphany with the heavenly light shining down and the angelic strumming of harps (or harpsichords), I have come to a handful of what I'll call gradual recognitions of the obvious, which I'll be discussing a bit in the future. One of those gradual recognitions, and probably the most recent of them, is that it would really be best if I left Tampa entirely, one way or the other. I now realize that if I'm going to be forced to spend my autumns in shorts and sandals with a box of kleenex by my side, I'm going to have to leave Tampa immediately, as well as entirely. This is the one season of the year I really get to enjoy. I am not happy.


Smitty Returns from Vacation

Sadly, my vacation has come to an end.

I had to drive back home today, from Atlanta. It's not a bad drive, although it was very, VERY hard to turn south onto 75 from 20 this morning. I had to think about it. I could have turned north. I really wanted to.

Oh well. I have tomorrow off from work, so I can do laundry and wash the car, get a haircut. I'm also going to write; just because I'm back from vacation doesn't mean I can stop.
I did not meet my goal of finishing half of Lauderdale, and now that I look at it that was an absurd goal. I would have had to write 13,500 words a day on the days I had set aside for writing. Fat chance. That said, I did finish chapters 27 through 44, which is good, and mapped out the remainder. Theoretically, I can finish by the end of this year if I write 1230 words a day. I say theoretically because I've made such pronouncements before. But that doesn't seem like such a tough number. We'll see how it goes.

Anyway. Wonderful vacation. I recommend everyone take one.


08 October 2005

Smitty's World is Going on Vacation

I am departing Tampa for a much-deserved and needed vacation. I’ll be staying someplace nice and spending, I hope, a lot of time working on Lauderdale, which is about ¼ finished now and of which I hope to write another half while on vacation.

Posting here will be intermittent at best between now and the first of November. But never fear, for I shall be back soon enough (too soon, for me). Enjoy your October as much as I’ll enjoy mine; it is the finest month of the year.


Sudan, Somalia, and Territorial Integrity

I didn’t mean to think too hard today, really, what with the cleaning, packing, and preparing that was on my menu. But during lunch I sat down to finish last week’s Economist, and lucky me the “Africa and the Middle East” news section actually had multiple articles about Africa—albeit the part of Africa that’s nearest the Middle East. Still, this is better than usual.

The article included a handy little map. The map pretty well carved Sudan up into four smaller chunks; the article implies that Sudan is barely holding together, and may ultimately descend again into civil war or split up.

And I wondered, what's so wrong with splitting up?
There's more after the jump.


For the most part, the West tends to place a great deal of emphasis on territorial integrity in the Third and Failed worlds. As a general rule this is probably a good idea, and if nothing else serves to keep the nation-state as the dominant concept of governance. There is little doubt that Wilson's doctrine of self-determination is not in all cases appropriate, but Western diplomacy as a rule seems to have gone all the way in the other direction, supporting territorial integrity even in the face of the absurd boundaries of states in many parts of the world (boundaries drawn largely by the West).

Sudan seems to be a perfect example of this. Here is an enormous country with huge potential resource wealth that has nonetheless known few years since independence free from civil war. The civil war in the south of the country ran for two decades, but the ceasefire and peace agreement there didn't bring peace to Sudan, because as the southern rebels left northeastern Sudan they were replaced by, well, northeastern rebels. And Darfur has been seething for years now, though the West only took notice in the last year. The article mentions that the continuing strife in western and, now, eastern Sudan, combined with the death of the south's John Garang, may test the southern ceasefire or lead to renewed hostilities there.

There can be little question that civil war is in all cases bad for a country and bad for its people. This is not to say that countries ought never to split or that civil wars ought never to be fought to cause or prevent that; only that the damage ought to be minimized as best as possible. Uprisings should be crushed swiftly or, if they cannot be, ceasefires and peaceful separations ought to be attempted. Of course this is far easier said than done and I come from a country that had a civil war lasting for five years.

The question, however, is, at what point should the West, of which Sudan is no fan anyway (and vice versa), stop discussing territorial integrity and start thinking along the lines of whether it wouldn't be much better for Sudan and the Sudanese people to break apart. Ah, say the diplomats, this is a slippery slope. Encourage Sudan to break up, and soon you have Indonesia and Nigeria and Congo and dozens of other states aiming to follow suit.

Perhaps. This seems a bit simplistic and alarmist. The West did not encourage the breakup of Yugoslavia, but neither did we step in to force Slovenia and Croatia and Macedonia et all to rejoin the mother country. We did attempt to stop the Serbs from killing members of the other ethnic groups, though we did little enough to stop the other ethnic groups from killing the Serbs or each other. In the aftermath of the Yugoslav breakup, other countries around the world did not get ideas in their heads and suddenly erupt into civil war. Sudan was at war before 1991, and is still at war. And anyway, the West as much as created the country of Kosovo, which is an independent state except in name; despite this, few ethnic groups (even including Iraq's Kurds) suddenly rushed in to ask NATO for aid in achieving their own independence.

But with Africa, of course, the West much prefers to turn away and let things seethe. We messed the place up, and we just can't bear to look at our own rotten history there.

Still, I think the time has come to stop looking at Sudan as the next polyglot dynamo a la India, and start thinking of it as it is: an absurd, dysfunctional country that we can not reasonably expect to pull its citizens out of their wretched existence without being substantially reconfigured. Ultimately, the view of Yugoslavia in the West has become one of, it was a terrific idea, but doomed to fail in the end. Perhaps Sudan is the same thing: it seems like a good idea, a large country with many different resources and enough people to exploit them well, but ultimately it isn't going to work. Perhaps if it were a rich country the various cultural, religious, ethnic, and linguistic quarrels around which the British drew Sudan's borders would be unimportant; but poor people tend to cling to these things as they have so little else to cling to.

Ultimately, we must recognize that, petroleum contracts aside, a country as wrought by civil war as Sudan is never going to be a successful country. It will never get rich, and it will never meet the basic needs of its people. It has not done so at any point in its history and we are fooling ourselves if we think it can do so. No country in history has ever seen its economy grow or its quality of life improve in the midst of full-scale war. That Sudan has continued this trend should not surprise us.

The question then is not one of whether Sudan can get better despite civil strife. Of course it can't. The question is can any of the various pieces of Sudan achieve peace on their own more easily than the whole? Would South Sudan at least have internal peace? Would Darfur? If the northeastern tribes had their own country, would they stop fighting each other? We can't know for sure, but we know two things: a country won't get better in the midst of war, and Sudan is not apparently capable of putting an end to its wars. Doesn't it make sense to support notional independence, if not outright secession, of South Sudan? Couldn't that make both halves more viable?

Across the Ethiopean plateau from Sudan lies the remains of what used to be called Somalia. Most countries of the world and the UN still refer to the open quarrel on the Horn of Africa as "Somalia," and "Somalia" even has a government, though it does not function, most of its members in fact live in Kenya, and it is riven by clan identity much as the original country of Somalia was in the early 1990s.

In the northern part of the former country, a nominal state has arisen called Somaliland. Somaliland has a capital city, a functioning nominally democratic government comprising three branches, prints its own money, and even has diplomatic relations with its neighbors; it has recently struck a deal with Ethiopia to ship Ethiopian goods out from its main port. In contrast to its western neighbor Djibouti, an American client state, Somaliland is democratic and open (granted, Djibouti sets a low standard). The country recently held a reasonably fair election. Yet Somaliland is not recognized by any country on Earth.

Why not? Again, it comes back to the overemphasis on territorial integrity, by the West and many other actors. The UN and the AU (African Union) both support the concept of "Somalia" as it used to exist, despite over a decade of anarchy. Why are we so averse to the idea of Somalia splitting up? The country utterly failed to govern its people or provide for their basic needs, to the point that it descended into anarchy and has failed to recover for, so far, 13 years. You would think that if a group of Somalis succeeded in creating a functioning state in any part of the former country, the world community would raise a great Huzzah and welcome the new state with open arms.

The government of Somaliland recently raided an al-Qaeda cell operating in their territory, killing or apprehending seven terrorists (which is pretty much an entire cell). The much-vaunted government of "Somalia" can't keep peace in its own capital of Muqdisho, to the point that the few reasonable members of that government have removed themselves to another town to govern, but control little outside that town. Yet here Somaliland not only operates and keeps the peace, it is fighting the war on terror on its own. That the West, and indeed the entire world, should feel some need to deny Somaliland recognition is absurd.

The nation-state is on the wane. The insistence on territorial integrity is merely an attempt to keep the concept viable for as long as possible. Ultimately, technology will bring down the entire nation-state order, but for now and for at least a few generations yet, the present order is all we have. Given the results of our insistence on keeping old borders (civil strife, rampant poverty, and no improvements in either), it is time the West and the international community begin recognizing when a state's borders have become untenable, and work to create sound borders so that people can live in some amount of peace and have the opportunity to make something of their lives.

07 October 2005

Blogroll III

I've made a few small changes to the Blogroll.
I removed The Gas Guy's blog, since A) I think he's stopped writing it, and B) the whole thing was a deception anyway, which I cannot respect.
I've added a great academic/law blog, The Volokh Conspiracy, one of the best general smart-people blogs anywhere.
I've also added Camp Katrina, a blog by a National Guard soldier working on Katrina Cleanup. Again, well worth the time.


Harriet Miers: The Best Person Anywhere In America For The Supreme Court

For those who have difficulty with sarcasm, the title of this post is a good example.

The Harriet Miers nomination is looking more and more like a play by Bush to see how far he can take the idea of presidential privilege. Here’s a nominee with no record, scant qualifications, and oh by the way I’m not going to let you see anything she’s done in the last six years, since I have executive privilege. So there. He acts like a pre-schooler who finally gets to take home the class gerbil; now he thinks it’s his gerbil, so he thinks he can make up any rules he wants before you can see it.

I just posted that Congress has accepted its constitutional duty to set limits on detainment and interrogation of combatants. Now we get to see if they take the job of "advice and consent" seriously, or if they knuckle under to the White House yet again and let Bush's cronyism go unchallenged.

Here are three things worth reading. This blog post from ACS Blog notes that the White House has announced it will not give up any of Miers' papers from the last six years (executive privilege). And then there's this New York Times article that says about the same thing, but it's the Times, for those who prefer MSM to blogs. And finally here is Charles Krauthammer's column, which is pretty much the first statement by a prominent conservatie that blatantly and openly says "withdraw this nomination."




Congress Decides to Stop Being So Damn Lazy

The Senate yesterday took a constitutionally required step and set limits on the manner in which “enemy combatants” et al can be detained and interrogated.

This is fairly significant. As this post on The Volokh Conspiracy notes, the Constitution gives Congress the power to make Rules concerning captures on Land and Water. The lawsuits and hand-wringing over the Bush Administration’s handling of detainees could have been avoided had Congress exercised its power to set rules for the treatment of “captures on Land,” rather than abdicating that authority to the President. The White House has argued it will veto the rules; I’ve read them, but haven’t really pondered them, and I don’t know why the rules are so onerous to the White House (they passed the GOP controlled Senate 90-9), except that they are rules and indicate a heretofore dormant sense of Congressional independence from the White House. This is scary to Bush, who would much rather be King than President anyway. Eight comments down is a comment by Robert Lyman, who includes the full text of the amendment, so you can read the rules yourself if you like to see how horrifyingly complex they are (they’re not).

This story will be underreported. I’d not have heard about it but for a late afternoon scan of Volokh before I left work. It could be something to watch, however.


Maddox Takes Smitty's Advice

At long last, after an endless string of minor scandals that cast doubt upon his ethics and managerial skills, Scott Maddox has done what I long ago said he should do, and withdrawn from the governor's race.

Good for Scott. Of course, his career in elective politics is at this point pretty much over. Good for Florida.


Maria's End To End

If you need to get your car detailed and you live in South Tampa, you should go to Maria's End-to-End, at 1101 South Howard: 254.9699. She shampooed and dried the interior, cleaned the floor mats, vacuumed, and sprayed a citrus enzyme to combat the mildew smell from leaving my windows down last weekend, all for only $35. Plus, she washed the car, too, which she didn't charge me for because it was going to rain again that afternoon anyway.


04 October 2005

I'd say I'm lazy, but I don't want to offend lazy people

You'll note that on those days when I'm feeling particularly lazy, I mostly post links to other stuff instead of creating "content" of my own. This is one of those days. Shut up!

Here is a link to a brilliant blogpost by Eugene Volokh that everyone should read about the whole issue of offense and accomodation... that is to say, political correctness. Go read it. Leave me alone!


Down with the RIAA

Because it is not possible for news of the RIAA’s bullying tactics to be too widely disseminated, I hereby link to Ars Technica for the first time ever, to a story about a 42-year-old disabled single mother in Oregon who has allegedly been wrongly accused by the RIAA of music piracy (gangsta rap, no less) and then threatened by that shithole organization that if she refused to settle on the claim despite it’s probable falsehood, RIAA would proceed with the lawsuit to “discourage others from attempting to defend themselves against unwarranted litigation.”

And to think, there were CDs out there I wanted to buy. Not anymore, though. The money just goes to fund this racketeering campaign by the RIAA, so forget it.



03 October 2005

A Christmas Judge

Well. So, the president nominated his friend Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Rather than try to come up with something witty on my own, I’m going to link to a couple of worthwhile articles on the subject. The first is not a very good article. I wouldn’t even bother reading it if I were you. But it has a truly wonderful picture right there at the top. I’d post this picture directly on the blog but I don’t want to scare the children with this picture of Skeletor with a bouffant. More after the Jump.


Here is a much better in-depth article about Ms. Miers (technically, she could still be called Miss Miers) and the various hurdles she has to jump. Mr. Cohen here does a good job of painting a rather bleak picture of the road ahead for our darling Harriet. This reflects the notion I’ve seen repeated several times around the web today that Miers’ nomination is doomed, that she may even withdraw her name at some point (this last seems purely hopeful), and that the nomination is intended solely to pave the way for Bush to nominate Al Gonzales later this year. An interesting idea, but troubling; what is it about Ms. Miers that will cause her nomination to go south? Cronyism? Isn’t AGAG something of a crony of the president’s? Hmm.

Finally, here’s a column by Michelle Malkin about the reaction around the blogosphere today (you can rest assured this post will not make it onto Ms. Malkin’s radar). This is perhaps the most interesting of all, because it shows how early the negative coverage got started, and how much of said coverage is coming from the right. Of course those agencies devoted to pimping Bush nominees for any court are going to support Ms. Miers. But it seems like the rank and file are in a funk and riled (I’ve been waiting for months to use that).

One of the bloggers that Ms. Malkin links to talks about how people on both sides of the political spectrum "overwhelmingly seem to agree that Harriet Miers was an underwhelming selection." This seems unfair. Surely there is at least someone out there in the world who is merely whelmed (that may not be a real word, but it should be), and not actually underwhelmed. I wouldn’t say I’m overwhelmed by Ms. Miers, except in the sense that I am overwhelmingly opposed to her use of eye makeup (she’s been spending too much time with Krazy Kat Harris). I’m sure that she won’t make it through the Senate hearings without a competent makeup artist and hair stylist. Well, I would be sure of that, except that said competent stylist clearly was not roused out of bed for this morning’s announcement, and one would expect that with a person so obscure as Ms. Miers, a good first impression would have been warranted. But this White House apparently doesn’t swing that way.

My first impression, upon hearing of Ms. Miers' nomination this morning on NPR, was, what gall. Twice now Bush has set a friend to the weighty task of finding the best person in the country for a particular role, and the friend has looked no further than his or her own mirror. That Bush sees no problem with this is troubling. Troubling, too, is the fact that, all political considerations aside, there are dozens, probably hundreds, possible thousands, of people in this country better qualified by dint of experience and temperament to the job that Ms. Miers successfully found herself for. This is truly disappointing.

I've never been a defender of this president and there is no chance that I'll start now. But with his selection of Mr. Roberts (a selection Ms. Miers is said to have had a hand in), Bush showed that at times he can put politics and partisanship aside, damn the tides of diversity and tokenism, and simply find the best person for a position. Few people can call Roberts unqualified; none can do so seriously. Roberts was not a Bush friend, and though he is clearly ambitious that is no sin. Roberts' colleagues to a man agreed that he is a brilliant thinker and well-suited to his new position on the Court. Roberts may (or may not) prove more conservative than me, but that is of little consequence when one considers that Bush selected him purely on the basis of his great qualification for the job. I gave Bush much credit for this. What is most disappointing to me, then, is that the nomination of Ms. Miers clearly shows that Bush's striving to find a competent, rather than loyal, appointee was a one-shot deal. He clearly didn't try to find another Roberts. He didn't even try to find someone who could be passed off as another Roberts. And I have no choice but to conclude that we merely got lucky with Roberts, and that competence and qualification are of as little importance to Mr. Bush now as they were when he saddled the taxpayers with a glorified horse-trader as their FEMA director.

But this is merely another in a long string of disappointments from Mr. Bush. And when one looks past the rather disturbing message sent by Ms. Miers' nomination, there are some good things to be found. For example, there is almost no chance whatsoever that there will be cause for a great filibuster showdown in the Senate and a change of the Senate's rules. For that we can be deeply thankful.

The exciting thing about this nomination is that it could go in any of a dozen different directions. With Harry Reid tacitly offering her support immediately after the announcement (and he did so brilliantly, remarking when told of her previous donations to Al Gore that, though he hadn't known of them before, the fact made him feel that much better about Ms. Miers; you could hear the skin crawling on the right), anything could happen. Ms. Miers may not be a shoo-in for the job. She may get filibustered—maybe even by a combined group of both Demos and GOPers. Or, she could sail through the hearings and be confirmed 97-3 (the three being Schumer, Kennedy, and Byrd). None of these are outside the realm of possibility. Regardless of how this nomination turns out, the president has given journalists a big early Christmas present: excitement, slander, strange coalitions, vitriolic conservatives, confused liberals, and the possibility of complete implosion! Just in time for the holidays, and all wrapped up in a big box of too much Dallas hairspray and smeared eyeliner. Hooray for Christmas!

02 October 2005

Mmm, Spidery

Am I the only person who thinks that Honda's decision to advertise the new Civic with an image of millions of baby spiders bursting out of their egg sacs was, um, ill-advised? (It's commercial number 6 at that link, "Keyhole". Creepy.)
I like the one with the little cartoon Civic bouncing off the rooftops (though it is exceedingly silly), but this one just sort of creeped me out.


Savannah

Lucky for me, the last few books I've received as gifts (of which Savannah is one) have all been very good. Savannah is not the sort of book I probably would have picked up on my own, so I'm doubly glad to have got it (was it for my birthday? Or Christmas?). Thanks, Mom and Dad!

I've never read John Jakes, though I've thought about picking up Charleston once or twice. I probably will. This is a very simple little story, a fast read, but rather exciting nonetheless. The cast of characters is wide but ably drawn, and with a handful of exceptions are brought together well at the end. I read most of this book this afternoon; it's not a particularly weighty tome, but it isn't meant to be. It's the sort of thing you could read in a few days at Christmastime, and I think that's what was intended. (More after the Jump.)

The story centers around a young girl named Hattie Lester, and the family cobbled together around her. She and her mother share duties at a dried up old plantation on the outskirts of Savannah. They flee into the city to stay with a friend as Sherman's troops approach the city, and the story plays out around and through those desperate circumstances.

The book takes in over a dozen separate plot lines, which is a lot to manage. This can be a bit confusing in the early going, keeping everyone straight. Once the action moves into Savannah along with the Union army, the book picks up substantially. I'll wager you probably won't want to put it down once Gen. Sherman himself makes his appearance.

Of course, by the time you've got a third of the book left, you have a pretty good idea how it's all going to play out in the end. The question that keeps you reading is, how exactly is Jakes going to get us there? It's well worth the journey.

My main criticism would be that one of the plotlines is deemed so frightfully unimportant as to not warrant resolution at the end of the book. This little plotline seems to stem from a need to allow young Hattie to visibly irritate her relatives early on in the story; Jakes returns to it only two or three times, taking the time to flesh out a backstory on a sympathetic character, but come the end of the book the story is left open. Hopeful, but open. I question the need for it, but this is minor.

Gen. Sherman is almost sympathetic here, which is saying something because of all individuals I've studied from that era, Sherman comes the closest to having a heart of pure evil. I'm not saying I need to reevaluate my impression of him, only that Jakes has done a good job here.

This is a very charming little story, and as the Christmas season is approaching and it's coming out in paperback, it's probably worth picking up.